Last month the Information Commissioner (IC) sent a
letter to Bexley council explaining why they should answer a year old Freedom
of Information (FOI) request. The question Bexley council did not want to answer was
whether or not there had been a pay off to a senior legal officer who left the
council in unexplained circumstances immediately after the attempted cover up of former leader Ian Clement’s
misuse of his council provided credit card.
The question did not ask for the amount of any payment to be revealed, only if there was one or not. Bexley council refused to answer and employed a range of delaying tactics. Eventually the IC gave them 35 calendar days to respond. The 35 days expired but after a reminder Bexley council reluctantly replied.
Their letter began by quoting the Employment Rights Act 1996 and how it prevents disclosure of the information held, all of which the IC had explained in great detail did not apply in this case and contrary to his advice said “there is no reason of weight to breach that confidence. Our revised answer to your request is limited to confirming the existence of information. This letter constitutes a fresh refusal notice, under Section 17(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000”.
All Bexley council is prepared to do, despite the nine page explanation from the Commissioner of why they are wrong, is to confirm that they know the answer to the question. Bexley council continues to be desperate to cover up every aspect of their leader’s fraudulent use of a credit card and their refusal notice will be put through the appeals process yet again.
I know of two recent instances of a new technique to avoid answering FOI requests; Bexley council declines with the excuse that the information is just about to be put on the council’s website - and then of course it isn’t. All responses of that nature should be considered to be refusals. The latest example, only a day or two old, proved to be a duplicate of one asked by someone else and answered more than a month ago in the same way.